It’s Complicated: A Longitudinal Exploration of Young People’s Perceptions of Out-of-Home Care and Their Reflections on How to Change the Child Welfare System

Heather Taussig, Michelle R. Munson

Few studies have systematically asked youth about their perceptions of placement in out-of-home care (OOHC), and no known longitudinal studies have explored how their perspectives change over time.

In this mixed methods study, over 200 pre-adolescent children recently placed into OOHC were asked questions about the difficulty and helpfulness of placement and how their lives might be different had they not been removed. Participants were then asked these same questions when interviewed 10 years later as well as how they would change the child welfare system.

At both ages, over 80% of participants reported that it was somewhat or very helpful to have been placed in OOHC. Although fewer young adults than pre-teens felt that their lives would have been better if they had never been removed from their homes, more young adults reported that it was very difficult to have been placed in OOHC. Many participants reported that they did not get enough information from their caseworkers and almost never had enough say about what happened to them while in OOHC. Demographic and psychosocial characteristics measured in both preadolescence and young adulthood were largely unrelated to ratings of placement in OOHC.

Participant responses to the question about how they would change the child welfare system varied from “nothing” to impassioned responses about the need for change (e.g., better oversight, giving birth parents more time before removal, keeping siblings together). Data suggest, overwhelmingly, that the experiences of youth are nuanced and complicated, and they highlight the importance of youth voice in child welfare decision-making.